Audi Q7 – a running back in disguise

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Audi left Jaguar the only luxury nameplate without a sport utility vehicle in its lineup when it introduced the Q7 early in 2006. Of course Jaguar has Land Rover as a sibling.

The German automaker had inexplicably been left standing on the platform after the sport utility train had departed the station. The all played catch-up and Audi has finally climbed on board entering the luxury segment with a large stylish wagon-like vehicle that adequately fills the niche for people with a lot of disposable income who love Audi and want something bold and a little different.

The 2007 Q7 is based on the Volkswagen Touareg/Porsche Cayenne platform stretched about six inches to make room for a third-row seat. It’s a large, hefty vehicle that takes considerable horsepower for proper motivation. It feels substantial. Even the doors are heavy. Stand next to the Q7 with its optional 20-inch wheels and it looks big and beefy.
It projects a weighty presence. This is the vehicle we want to be in if we ever have a serious accident, heaven forbid. This is the most beautiful tank ever conceived.

Ease away from the curb and the Audi tells the driver that it’s satisfied just to stay planted in its space. This lack of inertia is soon overcome, however, with a gentle push of the accelerator the Q7’s heavy and ponderous demeanor is no match for the muscular 4.2-liter V-8, and its 350 horses and 325 pound-feet of torque. Once under way, the Q7 can move at a respectable 0-to-60 jog of about 7.5 seconds.

The Audi feels more like a German sports sedan than a typical American sport utility vehicle once out of the slow traffic and into the twists and turns of back-road America.

It’s akin to Jerome Bettis, the stocky 255-pound former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who look ponderously slow but was deceivingly fast, maneuvering his bulk into the end zone time and time again.

Therein is the beauty of the new Audi. Despite being weight challenged, at 5,500 pounds it is svelte, an aerodynamic looker with arched roof and muscular lines that have all the SUV credentials of its Mercedes, BMW, Infiniti and Cadillac competitors.

It stands only 68 inches tall in a segment where 75 inches is the standard. And it has a ground clearance of just 8.1 inches where 9 inches are more the rule than the exception. But Audi has some tricks.

With the optional air suspension ($2,600), the ride height can be increased for more clearance and it can also lower the vehicle in high-speed driving.

In the same vein, wind tunnel testing showed a stellar 0.34 co-efficient of drag and in a major auto magazine’s 300-foot skidpad test the Q7 turned in astounding numbers.

If the Q7 is sounding more and more like a bulked-up and slightly stretched A6 sedan, you are getting the picture. The Q7 fits more the image of the Porsche Cayenne than the Lincoln Navigator. And in that image the Q7’s big V-8 engine has a throaty roar as it powerfully runs through the six gears of the slick-shifting Tiptronic automatic transmission. It feels even faster than it is because of its heft, like a locomotive hurtling down the tracks.

It stops considerably faster than a locomotive. In fact, the Q7 stops faster than most vehicles its size coming down from 60 in just 129 feet as measured in magazine tests.

The Q7 also come standard with Audi’s famous all-wheel drive Quattro, and has a well-balanced 42/58 torque split under normal driving conditions, which makes the rear-drive bias comforting on the highways.

Inside the Q7 is a great place to be. Wonderfully supportive seats make driving a pleasure. The state-of-the-art interior looks much like the A6, which means it is impressive from the red glow of the dashboard lights at night to high-quality materials to impeccable fit and finish.

Audi’s so-called Multi Media Interface, which includes a control knob, accesses the vehicles navigation system, climate controls and Bose audio system. It’s not the easiest application in the luxury ranks — look to Lexus for that honor — but it’s not that difficult once you’ve spent a couple hours with it.

Other standard features include a power rear liftgate, leather upholstery and a Bose audio system with in-dash six-CD player. Standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, a stability control system with hill descent control, tire pressure monitoring and front-seat side airbags. Side curtain airbags are optional.

Some worthwhile options are available including adaptive cruise control, a rear-park assist camera and a lane-changing side assist unit that informs the driver if it’s not clear to move to the next lane. The backup camera projects a trajectory of where the SUV will end up, depending on the degree that the steering wheel is turned. This is a nice touch.

Also standard with the V-8 is anemic gas mileage measured by the EPA at14 mpg city and 19 highway. Premium gas is recommended.

But those who can afford the price of entry — $50,620 for the standard model and $60,620 on the Premium trim line — gas costs should not be a problem.

Even though we tested the base model, a long list of options including adaptive air suspension, rear view camera, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, four-zone climate control and a cold weather package raised the price to $64,520 including destination charge.

For slightly better mileage and to knock 10 grand off the base price, Audi recently introduced a 3.6-liter V-6 model. Although it has a healthy 280 horsepower, we wonder if that’s enough to move the big machine in the manner normally associated with luxury sport utilities. It ups the gas mileage to 16/20.

Audi wants to sell as many as 30,000 copies of the Q7 annually. It’s a great vehicle for the one who had his or her heart set on an A6 sedan, but needs the extra seating or storage afforded by the Q7. But there aren’t 30,000 of those souls out there, so Audi will have to gain thousands of conquest buyers, people who can be steered away from the Infiniti QX56 or the Mercedes GL450 or the BMW X5 or who might want an upgrade from sibling division VW’s Touareg. We’ll bet Audi’s conquest rate will be pretty good.


Base price: $50,620; as driven, $64,520

Engine: 4.2-liter V-8

Horsepower: 350 @ 6,800 rpm

Torque: 325 pound-feet @ 3,500 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Seating: 2/2/3

Turning circle: 39.4 feet

Length: 200.2 inches

Wheelbase: 118.2 inches

Curb weight: 5,523 pounds

Towing capacity: 6,600 pounds

Luggage capacity: 10.9 cubic feet

Maximum cargo capacity: 72 cubic feet

Fuel capacity: 26.4 gallons (premium)

EPA rating: 19 highway/14 city

0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)

Also consider: Infiniti QX56, Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes GL450, BMW X5

The Good:

• Sports car like handling
• High-quality interior materials

The Bad:

• Hefty weight zaps performance
• No factory-installed rear entertainment center available

The Ugly:

• Fuel economy in an oxymoron in this vehicle